Women should move beyond mentoring, Walmart International CFO says
Monday, September 26, 2011
Women who want to
support gender diversity at leadership levels must move beyond mentoring and
start sponsoring each other, according to Walmart International CFO Cathy
Smith, who shared her career experiences and life lessons at the Network of
Executive Women Leadership Summit, Sept. 20 in Orlando.
Women tend to be
promoted on their performance, while men are promoted for their potential, because
men do a better job of truly sponsoring one another, rather than acting as
mentors, who tend to be mere "advice givers,” Smith told more than 700
attendees at the Network’s 10th anniversary Leadership Summit.
"We have a great
pipeline of women leaders up to a point, but then women tend to check out,”
Smith said in reference to the current state of the cpg/retail industry. "But
women now in senior leadership positions are doing a better job of paying it
forward,” she said.
Smith, who was
interviewed by author and consultant Jan Hill, expressed frustration at the
slow progress women have made in the industry. With women occupying only 11
percent of the top leadership positions in business, "we’ve made no progress in
a decade and that is just stunning to me,” Smith said. She does, however,
expect a change in the status quo. "Gender equity is a business imperative and
because there is such a war for talent it will happen.”
Reflects on career
Smith also reflected
on her career and efforts to find work/life balance. She long aspired to be CFO
of a public company, she said, but declined her first opportunity to join
Walmart, choosing to become CFO of Gamestop instead. Six months later, the
Walmart opportunity presented itself again and she accepted.
"You don’t get a do
over in life very often and I felt like I got a do over,” Smith said.
Still, she had
reservations. "Coming to a company with 2.2 million employees worried me,” she
related. "[Also] it is tough to move to Northwest Arkansas, because it’s not
like moving to New York, Chicago or Dallas.”
She came to Walmart
International with no experience in retailing or merchandising and her position
called for working with managers from nearly 30 countries, all of whom were
male. "Immediately I had no credibility with any of these folks,” Smith said.
On the advice of
Walmart International President and CEO Doug McMillon, Smith walked stores with
individual country leaders, asking questions that helped build mutual respect.
travel demands, the mother of two young boys said she relies on her husband to
handle most household responsibilities. "He is amazing and I couldn’t do what I
do around the world without knowing that he is taking care of things at home,”
To help maintain
work/life balance, Smith leaves the office by 6 p.m. so that she has dinner
with the family each evening before finishing her responsibilities from home.
She is up every morning at 4 a.m. to run, no matter where she is in the world.
"That’s how I define balance, but everyone’s definition is different so
you have to choose your own balance,” she said. "I know how to have more fun
than most and I will try anything once,” Smith said. "If you can name it I’ve
probably done it once.”